Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner had to laugh. Shortly after holding off the two-time defending NBA champions for a 114-110 opening night victory (see Instant Replay), the teammates thought back to their first season with the Sixers. “I was joking with Evan. We were talking about when we first got here how we had a lot of games just like this one early in the season and we found a million different ways to lose them,” Hawes said. “We needed this.”
Some of those losses during the 2010-11 season were unique, like the one in which the Sixers lost to Washington on a late four-point play in overtime. There was another OT loss in Washington, too, as the Sixers opened the season 3-13. The difference between those losses and the victory on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center was hardly a subtle one, according to Hawes and fellow veteran Thad Young. First, the Sixers opened the game with a 19-0 run, built up a lead to 22 points and rallied in the fourth quarter after allowing 80 points in the second and third frames.
The Heat played the second game of a back-to-back without Dwyane Wade. However, with 80 points in the second and third quarters, including 10-for-13 shooting on threes in the third quarter, it looked like the Heat would survive without the perennial All-Star. That was until the Sixers’ rookie point guard, Michael Carter-Williams, took over.
Down by eight points with 4:30 to go in the game, the Sixers stood up to LeBron James (25 points, 13 assists) and the Heat with a remarkable amount of poise. Call it steely nerve and veteran know-how all over the floor from Hawes, Turner and Young. But more than that, unflappable point guard Carter-Williams played as if he had been in the league for 10 years. In the final three minutes of the game, Carter-Williams grabbed three rebounds, handed out three assists, grabbed a steal and stepped up to the foul line to make five out of six foul shots, including a pair with 8.5 seconds left to seal the game.
Believe it or not, Carter-Williams showed that poise and grittiness in his NBA debut. With 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven assists, Carter-Williams did just about everything and then some. The double-double is the first by a Sixer since Maurice Cheeks did it in his first game in 1978. The 22 points is the most by a player making his debut since Allen Iverson scored 30 in 1996.
The 22-12-9-7 combination is one achieved only twice previously by anyone in NBA history. Quick point guard Ricky Green had a 26-12-9-7 for the Utah Jazz in 1982, and Spurs’ guard Johnny Moore put up a 26-13-9-11 in 1985. Not only did the nine steals tie a franchise record, but also it was the most steals in a debut since it became an official stat in 1973. No player has officially posted a triple-double in his NBA debut, though coach Brett Brown -- also making his NBA coaching debut -- thinks Carter-Williams could have been the first. “I thought he could have had one more steal but he was out of place in one of the early defensive assignments,” Brown said, again with a grin.
The coach will let that one slide. After all, it was the first game and Carter-Williams did step up to hit those free throws at the end. And oh yeah, Carter-Williams had just one turnover. “The stats speak for themselves, really,” Brown said. “They’re littered across many categories. … We tried to come up with a game plan and a way to play and he’s a big part of that. We have to turn him loose a little bit. “What do you say? Look at the win and look at the stat line. He was really, really good.”
Carter-Williams wasn’t the only standout. Turner scored a game-high 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting, despite the fact he missed four three-pointers and went 3 for 10 on shots outside the paint. Hawes added 24 points with a team-high nine rebounds and hit a huge three-pointer with 2:36 to go in the game to cut the Heat’s lead to one point. Additionally, Young added 10 points and Tony Wroten came off the bench to provide some energy and fire to go with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
Brown played nine of his 11 players in uniform with each player scoring a basket in at least 12 minutes. Afterwards, the talk was about the rookie point guard and his remarkable debut. “I’m very proud of him,” Young said. “He showed every side of himself and how he can be a great player in this league. He handled the pressure and he got up into them and forced them to make mistakes. He kind of willed us on.
“He doesn’t play like a rookie at all. He came in on day one and was able to take coaching and criticism and that’s a good thing. He has a little edge to him, which I like. I don’t want my point guard to be a wimp or a punk or anything like that -- I want him to be tough. You know, take the contact and keep on moving and he does that. Put a Band-Aid over it and keep playing.”
All while posting some impressive numbers, too.
Afterwards, Carter-Williams was as poised talking to the media as he was battling the Heat on the floor. He was excited to see his family after the game and gave veteran answers about his performance, quickly deflecting accolades from himself to his team. "Everything was clicking tonight," Carter-Williams said. "If we can consistently play together, then we can be a good team."
Better yet, Carter-Williams is already looking forward to Thursday’s film and practice session followed by the trip to Washington where he will be matched up against point guard John Wall and the Wizards on Friday night. First, it’s Wall on Friday night and then Derrick Rose and the Bulls on Saturday night. Get ready, rookie, there’s more coming.
- John Finger, CSN Philly